U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Mitch McConnell are lucky men right now. In a phrase, they’re all cattle and no hat.
I know, you’re thinking the phrase is “all hat, no cattle.” That’s a real phrase with various meanings. It can derisively describe an urban cowboy, like most country singers who dress and try to talk like they just came off the farm but don’t know Carhartt from Cartier. It can also mean you walk around like the big boss while everybody ignores you and does what they want, like the Minnesota Vikings did before head coach Brad Childress got fired.
On the flipside you have Lamar and Mitch. Next year, Lamar will continue his role as GOP conference chair while Mitch remains minority leader of the Senate. Unlike their counterparts in the House, they didn’t pick up enough seats to become the majority party in the upper house — and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
With the majority comes the responsibility to govern and the expectation of results. That stands in direct contrast to their preferred currency of no-to-everything. Right now, voters aren’t putting up with excuses and are demanding that those in charge get the economy rolling again. Still in the minority, Lamar and Mitch get to deflect the coming outrage of the 2012 elections and say to voters, “Well, we’ll do our best, but the Senate will still be controlled by Democrats for at least the next two years. Democrats have 51, we have 46, and there are three Independents.”
But in effect, Lamar and Mitch have something better: a de facto majority.
Thirty-three Senate seats are on the ballot in 2012, and 23 of those are Democratic (including two Independents who caucus with the Dems). Republicans have 10 seats to defend, and only GOP Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is worried about losing his job.
In 2011, a good number of those 23 Democratic caucus members will do more listening and more of the bidding for Lamar and Mitch than Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They want to keep their jobs and know that the best way to do that is to avoid going down a road paved by left-leaning legislators.
When those senators cast votes with the GOP, a good number of grassroots Democrats will rise up and demand they drink the Kool-Aid and go batty. They will start pushing for primary challengers, and bloggers will respond with articles charging heresy. All the while, Lamar and Mitch will watch and grin.
It takes 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate. In 2011, it will be easier for Lamar and Mitch to get that number of votes than it will be for Obama and Reid. Look at the numbers and who is on the ballot in 2012. The senators on whom Obama and Reid can’t count are Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jim Webb of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and of course Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
On other days, I would be worried about Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio as well, since they come from swing states and it will be a presidential election year.
What does all this mean? Lamar and Mitch have all the cattle and not the responsibility that comes with wearing the hat. They will not have to show results but just throw bombs, to cop the president’s phrase.
It’s time to pin the tail on the elephant and quit pretending who is in charge. Instead of letting Lamar and Mitch sit back and be guerrilla leaders, install them as the majority leaders with the title and watch what happens. We need results and not petty politics to get the economy rolling again.